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It's alright to go ahead and cut your roses back. Our recent cold weather should have sent them into dormancy.
Generally it takes a night or two in the low 20s and upper teens to accomplish this.
The most commonly grown roses by homeowners are hybrid teas.
Hybrid teas are the long stem type of roses such as the ones sold at florists. This type of rose requires the harshest pruning; they actually require hard pruning to perform well.
Hybrid teas should be pruned down to 8-10 inches.
If they aren't pruned this low they won't send up as many new shoots from the bud union next season and they won't bloom as well.
If you don't prune low enough you also run the risk that the plants will actually blow over this winter, damaging or even killing the plant.
Most hybrid tea roses are budded on to a rootstock, therefore to insure survival of the blooming part of your rosebush cover the bud union with 6-8 inches of mulch or soil to keep the bud union from freezing out.
Another type of rose is the grandiflora.
Grandifloras grow a little taller than hybrid teas and instead of one perfect rose per stem they produce flowers in clusters of six or more. These roses are also usually budded and must be covered 6-8 inches with mulch or soil. Grandifloras also require hard pruning like the hybrid teas.
Floribunda roses produce roses like grandifloras in clusters of six or more (even up to 30 or 40). They are generally pretty short, no taller than 2 feet.
Floribundas don't require hard pruning nor should they be pruned hard. A light pruning of no more than one-third of the height is plenty.
This will reduce the plant to the larger canes and increase vigor next spring.
Shrub roses are becoming increasingly popular due to the "knockout" series.
This type of rose doesn't require any pruning, however pruning one-third of the shrubs height off now will keep the plant in bounds and increase its vigor next season. Most shrub roses are very hardy and don't require any covering to survive the winter as long as they are growing on their own rootstock, meaning there isn't a bud union at the base of the plant.
There are numerous classes of roses including climbers, ramblers, English roses, French roses, bourbons, miniatures, polyanthas and numerous others. These roses only need light pruning to reduce size, thin branches, take out dead branches, or simply tidy the plant up. As a precaution a light layer of mulch or soil over the bud union will help insure that each rose comes back true to form next spring.
Make pruning cuts at 45-degree angles. After pruning, clean out all leaf and plant debris and discard it. Leaving this material in your beds will simply leave a reservoir of insects and diseases for next year. It is also a good idea to spray your roses with a dormant oil spray that is registered for roses. As always follow label directions.
You still have time to sign up for the Holiday Table Top Greenery class at the Washington County Extension Office. The class is Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 6 p.m. Each participant will actually make their own arrangement to take home.
The class costs $10 and there will be refreshments.
Call (859) 336-7741 to sign up.